Pastor Joe and Pastor Geoff talk about Holy Week, the importance of it and they share ideas of things happening in their churches during this special time of the year.
“Truly this is God’s son!” (Mark 15:39)
Listen for the echo of this promise throughout this Holy Week.
“Truly this is God’s son!” This is quite the statement from an outsider. These words were spoken by the Roman Centurion at the foot of the cross of Jesus; who was likely supervising his execution. Yet, from this oppressor and outlier it becomes a rich proclamation – reminding us of who Jesus is, what he has come to do, and what this cross means for ourselves and the world. Are you listening?
“Truly this is God’s son!” The echo of these words resonates as we pay attention to the story and see his friends betray, abandon and deny him. We hear these words personally as we contemplate how we have also betrayed, abandoned and denied Jesus ourselves. Yet even as these words call out our unfaithfulness, they proclaim God’s steadfast love with an even louder echo of hope.
“Truly this is God’s son!” This statement echoes across time and space from those who bear witness to Jesus and his cross around the world. Through many languages and cultures and across many centuries echoes cry out: “Jesus is Lord!” These words echo back toward us, who stand at the foot of his cross now. Will we listen to that echo, as we wonder how Christ continues to meet us, where this cross calls us to go, and how we might follow in his footsteps?
“Truly this is God’s son!” Where might this echo reach the oppressors, outsiders and outliers around us who are also in need of good news? Are we listening for them? How can we help them hear it too?
“Truly this is God’s son!” Can you hear the echo of these words in your own despair? We live in a world full of suffering, fear and anger. A sense of abandonment, blame and outrage continues to fill us as we see injustice towards others, bear our own burdens and face our inner hopelessness. Yet there is Jesus on the cross – beside us, before us, behind us every step of the way. He is there on the cross, for you. Keep listening for the echo.
“Truly this is God’s son!” From the cross, Jesus calls us to be more human, more present, more fragile, more selfless in our treatment of others as he embodies God’s ultimate sacrificial love and undeserved mercy for us – when we feel like the outliers and outsiders and are confronted by the oppressive systems in which we all participate.
“Truly this is God’s son!” Can we echo these words back towards ourselves? Cling to what they promise in the midst of turmoil and strife. Share them by how you live, act, speak, and interact with others. With strangers. With neighbors. With those you love most.
“Truly this is God’s son!” We will soon gather Sunday morning as these words echo back to us yet again. As Mark tells the story (in Chapter 16:1-8) the women run away from the empty tomb in terror and amazement much like you and I do. Soon, they too will hear the echo to share all they have seen and heard with the others. As we wait in terror and amazement, what echo will you be listening for when they share their witness with us?
“Truly this is God’s son!” Hearing these words echo; will you then believe?
“Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mark 11:8-9)
If you have ever walked-in or been to a parade, when done with the right flair they are usually enjoyable affairs. People line the street and shout with joy as those in the parade walk by them. The crowd’s energy is contagious. Depending on the type of parade; uniforms, costumes, animals, floats and music distinguish the crowd from participants. The best parades I have ever attended hand out candy.
Jesus enters Jerusalem on a colt, with the celebration of the crowd and the waving of cut branches. They shout “Hosanna” which literally means “Please save us.” It is a parade – but of a different sort. It is not really a call for revolution or a military parade but it is the sign that God’s reign is upon them, and their long exile and occupation is over. The savior has come. Messiah, God’s anointed one, has come to establish the Kingdom.
What will the Empire of Rome say to this?
Or their puppet king, Herod?
Or this crowd shouting “save us” once the religious establishment gets involved?
Or any other powers of this world, including our own?
As the story unfolds, we shall soon see the powers of this world fight back against the sign of God’s kingdom. For those who read the Passion narrative this Sunday, we quickly move from Jesus’ Palm Sunday parade to the parade of his execution – as this condemned prophet, healer and rabbi must carry his cross as an enemy of the state through the city to the site of his impending cruel and humiliating death by the garbage heap.
We will see the charge written above him: “King of the Jews” alongside the mocking of the crowd, the soldiers and religious leaders.
We will witness the complete abandonment and betrayal of his followers and friends.
Was this parade a failure? Was this just another sad attempt at revolution gone wrong? Were these palms waved in vain? Most importantly, where is my candy?
Could it be – that the passion was the plan all along?
If so, what kind of Kingdom is this Jesus proclaiming and what kind of king is he? What kind of power is being asserted when it seems like the empty powers of this world have won or at the very least have the upper hand against anyone who opposes them?
All we can do is wait and watch and be caught up in the story ourselves; unlike his followers who run away in fear – or his enemies that act out of theirs; or the crowd that is too afraid to pay attention to see what is really going on.
-Who do you see entering Jerusalem on this donkey?
-What kind of parade is this?
-What kind of kingdom did this Jesus come to establish and how will you know when you see it?
-Do you see it?
Keep looking. Pay attention. The Kingdom is at hand.
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21b)
What would these foreign Greeks have to do with a Jewish Rabbi?
Maybe they heard rumors of his miracles and wanted to see a sign for themselves. Perhaps they heard he was a good teacher and sought his wisdom. Possibly they heard he was a healer and someone they loved was in need and they thought Jesus could help. Or, it could have been something else. We may never know.
Whatever their reasons, they sought him.
Whatever their reasons, people seek him still.
What are your reasons? Don’t you wish to see Jesus?
Pay attention to how Jesus responds to this request (John 12:22-26). He doesn’t send these outsiders away because they don’t belong. He offers no miracles, signs or healing so they come to believe. There is no holiness test to see if they are worthy or good enough. Jesus doesn’t even interact with these seekers directly.
Instead, Jesus speaks to those who follow him about being lifted-up in glory for all to see. If people want to see Jesus, he says to look no further than his cross. Jesus then invites anyone who will heed his call to come with him there, even if it means losing their own life in the process.
Do you see him? How might others see him through you?
It doesn’t matter what our background is, or what brings us to Jesus in the first place. It only matters if we have eyes to see, ears to hear and an openness to follow Jesus wherever he leads.
Seeing. Hearing. Following.
Are you willing to be surprised by where Jesus might lead you?
He might just show you someone who wishes to meet him for the first time, however it was they got there.
Besides Psalm 23, John 3:16 is one of the most popular verses in the Bible.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
We see it on billboards and posters at sporting events. It is known by believers and non-believers alike.
But do we really know what it means?
Often when people hear this verse the focus becomes on “belief” and if we believe “enough.” In particular, the focus becomes “Do you believe Jesus died for you or not?” And if the answer is “no” – then sorry, you’re out.
While what we believe does matter (and I don’t mean to take away the significance of belief in our lives of faith or the judgment God extends to those who follow the ways of darkness rather than the light [John 3:18-21]); it seems to me that our usual focus on this verse is perhaps a bit skewed.
Its message is God’s love for the world. Rather than focus on God’s creative and restorative activity in the world; we more often act as though God is distant from the world or could care less about us and all the pain, suffering, injustice, cruelty and sinfulness we see at work around us. It seems as though the crooked, the tyrants and the sinister too often get away with their exploitation of others and the most vulnerable pay the price. We cry out to God for help and nothing changes. From our limited vantage point, the darkness appears to have the upper hand. We take the role of judgment upon ourselves to administer rather than leave it to God, since God appears to have left us to our own devices.
If God is absent, why should we care about Psalm 23 or John 3:16?
Maybe that’s the point.
Jesus makes clear that the cross is the sign where we can find God active in this world. Jesus is the light shining in darkness (John 1:5) even if it looks like the darkness is winning. Like the sign of Moses that was lifted up for all to see while people were dying (John 3:4-15), the cross is lifted up to remind us that God is here – in our suffering, in our sense of abandonment, in our doubts, in our pain and even in our death. Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to suffer and die to save the world (John 3:17) alongside each of us, lifted up for all to see. The sign of death becomes the sign of life. Easter comes sooner and much closer than we might think.
The cross stands as a sign of hope to believe in – not one that excludes or singles out those who don’t belong, but embraces the world (and everyone in it) with a love so radical, generous, intimate, extensive and bright – it reveals an eternal God who meets us in our lack of belief, despair and suffering when darkness overpowers us. In the cross Jesus offers us an eternal self-giving love in a deep and personal way that leads to a new way of life – both here and hereafter. The eternal light of Jesus shines — even in our temporal darkness. This is the foolishness of the cross Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 that confounds the wise, and befuddles the ways of the world. It is in following this way of the cross here and now that Jesus invites us to live in a new and empowering direction into God’s future, by embracing each other and the hurts of the world in the same embodied sacrificial love Jesus so freely shares with us.
That’s hope I can believe in.
How about you?
“Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
Sometimes I pray for Jesus to just tear the whole thing down. The Church. Society. Politics. Media. Everything. All of it. Not a stone left on top of another stone. Reboot the whole thing and start over. Corruption. Scandals. Vileness. Entrenchment. Self-centeredness. Hypocrisy. Sin. Why leave it at chasing out the money-changers? Purge the whole thing. Get rid of everything and everyone – and finally we could begin to build the change we all long to see in the world.
It seems at first that Jesus might agree with me. “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Yes…Tear it down!
The Temple and its money changers, the power-seekers and the holy-rollers exemplify everything that is wrong with the whole bit. Tear it down. Leave it in ashes. Destroy it all. But remember your promise to raise it back up. Please, Lord Jesus…Do it.
As much as I feel it would be a great plan to start our culture over from scratch; in this case Jesus isn’t talking about society, religion, politics, our sorry excuse for justice or any other constructions we humans build around ourselves that keep us from seeing the truth about God, ourselves or our neighbors. Those walls need to come down to be sure (and they will!), but Jesus isn’t talking about starting new and better versions of the systems that are crumbling around us now.
Jesus is talking about himself.
“Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
Take Jesus to the cross on Friday, and you’ll end up with Easter three days later. Or to put it another way – just when we think Jesus is finished – it is really just the beginning of what he has been up to all along. A new world is already being raised-up around us in Christ. It can’t be housed in any of our buildings or any other human-designed structures or institutions. Those things are way too confining for the risen Jesus who rules the universe, comes to us now.
Push away the rubble. Join the revolution. Enter grace. Jesus reveals that power, prestige, privilege, preferences, wealth and all the buildings in the world are meaningless – because only what is raised-up matters. You matter. Your neighbor matters. The world matters. Crucify Jesus and the reign of Christ enters where you least expect it. Take up that cross in his call to follow him and see what changes around you. Jesus called his mission “the kingdom” and he located it within lives transformed to love with reckless abandon — where there is a place for everyone; where no one goes without; where pain and sorrow are met by healing and wholeness; where death has lost its sting; where sin is forgiven and remembered no more; where swords are beaten into plowshares; where the lowly are lifted-up; where relationships are renewed and communities are restored; where evil is defeated once and for all; where light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it.
“Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:19)
Easter is coming. I’m ready.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34)
You’ve probably heard the expression, “It is my cross to bear” as someone bemoans the road ahead of them. That “cross” is usually referenced as a burden of a responsibility yet to be realized, or a relationship that is particularly difficult to manage or a health issue that is troubling with uncertainty about how to treat and/or deal with the reality of it. This phrase has also been used to perpetuate abuse, keep the status quo of inequitable power structures in place, or empower an inward self-aggrandizing martyrdom meant to either impress or shame others.
None of these sentiments capture what Jesus is actually calling for us to do. To Jesus, the cross is the fulfillment of his mission by his complete handing over of himself for the sake of those he loves. As a gift given and received, the cross becomes our embodiment of agape to share – by offering that same self-sacrificial love to others without any sense of what it may cost us personally.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 4 [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996], 87. An older translation reads: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die”).
In “taking up our cross,” Jesus isn’t asking for us just to fill a seat in a church building for an hour when it fits our schedule. He is asking for us to love him (and the people we encounter) so recklessly that it may cost us our very lives. Cross bearing holds nothing back wherever the road ahead of us leads. Taking that cross upon ourselves is an invitation to enter the suffering of others to love them like Jesus does.
The love found at the cross is what Jesus invites you to experience, live and share. It is a gift that calls us to die so that in Christ we live.
Who do you know that could use that kind of love right now?
What are you willing to deny to follow Jesus and the love of the cross?
What is holding you back?